The morning is brightening. Bees are buzzing in the old pear tree; the even older pear on the upper terraces has put out a few blossoms.
The following sequence illustrates the great number of preliminary adjustments that may be needed in approaching a change at the core of the posture. Master Chen stops me in mid move and indicates (39m50) that I am not sitting down properly in my right hip.
There are two aspects to the complex set of corrections shown here. First, it is necessary to unravel the extremities in order to access the misalignment at the core. From the teacher’s point of view it can feel like clearing the way through the brambles to reach a hidden object. The other aspect is the need to set up first the routing along the arms, so that when the core is placed in correct alignment, the pathways will already be open for the posture to fill from inside outwards.
Frequently the way to the hip is through the opposite shoulder, and part of the problem here is that my left shoulder is blocked. To open the shoulder he takes hold of my left hand and sets off a strong winding, carefully working it all the way up my arm. The strange thing is that from this lifting, twisting, and tightening of the insertion of the arm into the shoulder joint, the shoulder becomes more free. His right forefinger, controlling the degree of rotation, is acting like a probe, finding the way along the now strongly spiralled arm, towards my core. With his other hand he adjusts the connections with a touch to the left shoulder, to the elbow, then to the right shoulder, then to the left elbow again (second, third, fourth and fifth pictures above). Setting up the right degree of twine in the arm is a matter of extreme delicacy, like finding the right point of a wave on which to surf.
Then, in the pictures below, he sets about changing the orientation of the lower body. I had arrived in this position with my hips squared to the front. He subtly turns the pelvis towards the left diagonal; this affects the hip joints, opening them somewhat. That quick alteration of the pelvic direction, as it were away from the right, also frees the right arm; from being fixed and stuck in one direction, I now feel the manoeuvrability of my stance, with both arms spread actively from the middle.
Then (below) more work on the left shoulder and arm. A touch to the left side of the waist, to indicate — or hopefully to elicit — qi flow; yet more work on the left wrist and shoulder. I am struck by the easing effect of precisely executed exertion: the tautening and extension of the arm brings about release and flow. I think that my years of letting the posture hang loose had left a fair amount of tension trapped inside, and now it is being worked to the surface. But no amount of adjustment at the extremities would have freed me up if my pelvis had remained squarely fixed to the front. Minutely rotated now towards the diagonal, the body enters the flow of a spiralling action that will eventually take me around 180° to the left.
Now the way through the brambles is cleared and the objective is within reach. Master Chen takes me down to the precise position for the right hip (left-hand pictures below, 40m27 and 40m36). This is a dicey move. If everything has been prepared correctly, and if the student can sustain the openings and is not too tired by the preliminary corrections — for they have already intensified one’s experience of the body — then there is a chance that at this moment, qi will explode from dantian and fill the extremities in all directions. In this stance, that would likely be accompanied by a sploosh of red hot molten metal in the right thigh, and the student is liable to jump out of the position in alarm. There is not much time; that is is why he sets up the connections through the arms first, getting the framework prepared in advance before he sits me down in alignment and gives me a blast of qi. With the infrastructure set up before the core adjustment, I am given a chance to experience for a few seconds the sensation of being truly in the stance. This is the kind of learning experience that one treasures, and for which one continues the practice.
On this occasion there is just enough time for some final tweaks at key points of this stance in the upper body — my left hand and right shoulder (third picture above). With the right hip now in correct alignment, these minute touches can elicit a splendid drench in a waterfall of qi, from head to toes and fingers. Finally (above right, 40m44)… “OK!” A few moments longer, and I might have caved in. Master Chen gives just enough and not too much.